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Dave Olson, Published August 07 2009

Schools’ flu shot roles not decided

Area health workers are developing plans for addressing flu vaccinations for when students return to school, but the process shouldn’t be much different from years past, officials said Thursday.

Families will first be encouraged to have students get a seasonal flu shot from their private health care provider, said Dr. John Baird, health officer for Fargo Cass Public Health.

In past years, schools have been set up as sites where seasonal flu shots were given, but it has not been decided if that will happen this year, he said.

Supplies of the vaccine for the H1N1 flu strain are expected to arrive in mid- or late October, but at this point it’s unknown how much will be available, said Baird.

If it’s a large supply, Baird said sites will likely be set up for mass inoculations. If supply is limited, shots will first be given to pregnant women and other populations deemed at-risk.

Fargo and West Fargo school officials said they will accommodate whatever plan is developed, including offering school buildings as locations for providing shots.

Baird said families will be encouraged to have students get H1N1 flu shots, but as with seasonal flu shots the choice will be up to them.

“Vaccination will always be voluntary,” he said.

Planning is ongoing for how vaccinations will be handled in the Moorhead School District, but it’s likely the process will be similar to what is done in Cass County, said Ron Nielsen, director of human resources for the school district.

Nielsen said school officials will be meeting with county health officials to determine “where and when and how we would do the process,” adding it has yet to be determined whether students would have an option of receiving flu shots at school.

In the past, Moorhead students have been encouraged to get flu shots from their health care provider.

Traditionally, flu shots have been made available to district employees at school sites and that will likely continue, said Nielsen.

For employees who have insurance through the district, the shots are free. Employees who don’t have such insurance can still get shots, but they must pay for them, Nielsen said.

Baird said it’s unclear what the price for shots may be for the general public, but in the past there has usually been a fee.

Transmission of the flu virus usually jumps around the time school starts because of increased interaction.

Baird said prevention methods such as hand washing and other positive habits will be stressed.

“We don’t anticipate recommending that schools close because of infection, only that people that are infected stay home for up to about seven days, until they’re feeling quite well, so they don’t spread it,” said Baird.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555